Aug 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Federal judge blocks part of Idaho's near-total abortion ban in win for DOJ

Photo of a group of teenagers holding up pro-abortion signs on a sidewalk
A group of teenagers protest the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on July 2, 2022 in Driggs, Idaho. Photo: Natalie Behring via Getty Images

A federal judge on Wednesday granted the Justice Department's request to temporarily block a portion of Idaho's near-total abortion ban, ruling that "state law must yield to conflicting federal law" when it comes to abortions in medical emergencies.

Why it matters: The ban that's set to take effect Thursday would outlaw abortion in the state unless a pregnant person's life were endangered or if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest that was reported to law enforcement.

  • The Department of Justice had argued the ban's "extremely narrow" exceptions conflict with federal law, which allows abortions in emergency situations.
  • Idaho served as the DOJ's first challenge to a state abortion ban post-Dobbs.

What to expect: Wednesday's decision means abortions will remain banned in most cases, but a doctor cannot be punished for performing an abortion to protect the pregnant person's health.

  • That portion of the ban would've allowed authorities to arrest physicians and put the burden on them to prove the procedure met the conditions for exceptions to the law.

What he's saying: The United States "has submitted declarations from physicians explaining that there are any number of pregnancy-related complications that require emergency care mandated by [federal law] but that are forbidden by Idaho’s criminal abortion law," wrote the Clinton-appointed District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in the ruling.

  • "Idaho physicians have treated such complications in the past, and it is inevitable that they will be called upon to do so in the future," he continued.
  • "[A]lthough the parties and the Court have often focused mainly on the actions and competing interests of doctors, prosecutors, legislators, and governors, we should not forget the one person with the greatest stake in the outcome of this case — the pregnant patient, laying on a gurney in an emergency room facing the terrifying prospect of a pregnancy complication that may claim her life," the judge said.
"One cannot imagine the anxiety and fear she will experience if her doctors feel hobbled by an Idaho law that does not allow them to provide the medical care necessary to preserve her health and life. From that vantage point, the public interest clearly favors the issuance of a preliminary injunction."
Go deeper